First Day of the New Era
Anthony Russell White
I do not remember choosing.
I remember that we were prisoners
of war, but the war was over at last.
We were at a processing center
and those holding us had decided
that our group could not
be returned. We
had to disappear.
I remember going to the counter
and bringing back to our group
two stacks of small paper slips. One,
a thick stack, was inquiries about us
from family, Red Cross, others,
with correct names and tid-bits
of information to identify us:
"Do you have ...., who once lived at ....
had surgical scars on the left knee,
and long black moustaches."
The other stack was much smaller,
one thin blank form to be filled out by each of us.
I remember that it was understood
that no correct information
was to be filled in on any of those slips.
So that no matches would be made with the many inquiries.
We would disappear.
I remember coming up to David and putting
the two unequal stacks on a table
where he sat, and saying, "This
is where it happens, this
is the point of choice."
Although filling out these slips with false
information was voluntary, we knew
if we did not comply, it would be a quick death
in the adjoining room, probably with a shovel
to the back of the neck.
Otherwise, if we cooperated,
we would be taken away,
to live, perhaps, in isolation,
or volunteered for medical experiments.
I remember thinking desperately
of ways to hide those slips with our real
identities, any of them—all if possible—
in our mouths, in books,
in the building itself, to say "I was here."
So that someday they might be found
by some searcher who was never satisfied with